Summer is over. It’s now dark when I leave in the morning, and I have to use the light of my cell phone to signal the bus driver, to make sure he’ll see me and stop. The light jacket that isn’t enough in the morning is too much at midday. The maples outside my window are brilliant.
Autumn. You are so beautiful I can hardly breathe when I look at you, and you leave me so melancholy. If you’re me, that makes perfect sense. Autumn, you are an ending. You are golden days gone. You are perfect days, over. You are goodbye.
I woke this morning with a head full of perfect times gone by.
In the early 90’s I was a single mother to my toddler son, working as a 911 dispatcher in a small town in Nevada. Monster was the sunniest, most laid-back child ever. My mom and two sisters not only helped me with child care, they argued over who got the privilege of caring for him that day, he was just that much fun to take care of and they needed their “fix.” I was making good money; all my bills were paid, I had some savings and enough left over to do fun things like Marine World and trips to San Francisco, wandering around Tiburon and seeing Lamplighters musical theater shows. I was making my living doing something that helped other people in a tangible way, and that I was damned good at. I lived in what looked from the outside like a crappy single-wide trailer, that on the inside was a cherry, cheery, comfortable home, with the best kitchen I’ve ever had My panic and anxiety disorder was in remission, if that’s an accurate term; for a couple of precious years I moved through the world fearlessly.
But then a new sheriff came to town, literally, one who was not pleasant to work for. My life collided with the man who became my second husband and I was plunged into an abusive marriage. My sister died, suddenly and violently. The panic came back.
Nothing gold can stay.
Every summer during my childhood, we traveled from our home in Colorado to visit my grandparents in Carson City, Nevada. My mother’s sister and her family would come up from California and the house was jam-packed with cousins and aunts and uncles. We made day trips to the beach at Lake Tahoe or to Virginia City, inch-worming up the rutted, precarious Six-Mile Canyon Road in Grandpa’s old Scout. We shopped for school clothes and had grilled cheese and chocolate malteds at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. We rockhounded the desert hills for stones my grandfather would cut and polish and set into jewelry I still call my Grandpa Originals. During those summers I felt as connected and as part of things as I ever would in my life. At night the kitchen nook became a dormitory full of cots for me and my sisters and female cousins. The boys were on similar cots out in the big garage, and from what we could hear through the wall, they were having a lot more fun than we girls were, possibly because the adults couldn’t hear them and didn’t keep shushing them. Finally, one year, we wheedled and cajoled the grown-ups into putting the boys in the dining area and letting us girls dorm in the garage. It was every bit as superior as I’d known it would be. A garage is an odd place to love, but I loved my grandparents’ garage.
Time passed. Six-Mile Canyon Road has long been graded and paved. The Scout gave out and was replaced. Woolworth’s and its lunch counter have gone the way of supermalls and food courts. We grew up. Nothing gold can stay.
Before my move to Seattle, when I had already intuited that the bad economy was eventually going to claim me, my boss gave me a week off work just because I deserved it. We spent it camping at Fort Churchill, not far from where I lived.
The food was excellent, but food always does taste better when you eat it outside. The beer was cold and perfect. Everybody got along. We splashed around in what passed for the river in high summer drought; we played games and laughed and reveled in the campfire and moonlight. In the cool and secret shade of the trees, where birds sang their territories and spiders danced their webs, my troubles could not enter. I was safe in the here and now, safe from worry about the future. And for the first time in years, I was able to sleep. Lullabied by coyotes kiyi-ing and owls who-ing and leaves whispering to each other in the dark, I retreated from the world, and dreamed, and healed. That week was perfect.
But nothing gold can stay. I didn’t go back to the Real World, though. It was the Real World I had to leave, to return to the Construct’s simulation.
After two years of job-searching in Nevada remained fruitless and my boss could lose no more money by keeping me on, I turned my attention elsewhere, to a place with a reportedly thriving job market and a climate that would be good for the Tominator’s health: the Pacific Northwest. Almost immediately, I was offered a plum job, and I happily reported to work as legal assistant in a beautiful office in downtown Seattle. After being turned down repeatedly for so long, I was ecstatic with my accomplishment and the beautiful city I’d achieved. Everything gleamed and glowed: the furniture, the sun on the windows of the sleek office tower, the luminescent trees that surrounded me with the promise of a fresh start, the water of Puget Sound, the future.
Or, it gleamed for maybe two weeks. My wonderful new boss turned out to have a personality flaw, if not an outright personality disorder; the three months I spent in her employ is one of the most horrific times of my life. The job didn’t last and I was left a stranger in a strange land with precious few resources. I lost my retirement to everyday living expenses. I lost my house. I lost my entire sense of security.
Sometimes it’s not even gold. Sometimes it’s just a mirage. Fool’s gold.
Dream Girl is so very golden, the more so because we’ve worked for her gold like the princess spinning for Rumpelstiltskin. We don’t love a lot of the same things so we treasure what we do adore together, period drama and campy do-wop, chai and pajama pants and those hours here and there when we can hold anxiety at bay. Some of my most treasured times are when we cuddle in my room with tea and slippers and Pride and Prejudice or Little Shop of Horrors or Dirty Dancing.
But she is very nearly an adult in every sense of the word. She is knowledgeable, savvy, almost 18 and on the brink of the adventure of her own journey. She will be leaving me, and that’s as it should be. When we raise our children right, we lose them. I raised her to live her own life, to set her own standards and build what she wants to build, for herself and for those she peoples her life with. It is part of Nature’s cycle that she grows away from me.
These perfect times are gone, yet at the same time they are not gone. I can close my eyes at any time and slip right back into them, through the magic of memory. Love each moment and know you’ll have it forever, but don’t forget to hold your breath for the next one, that is surely, surely coming.
Autumn is here. It’s cold this morning. In the next moment I am going to wrap up in the comfort of my fluffy, thick robe and breathe in the steam from a cup of hot tea. It will be a golden moment.
The gold doesn’t stay, but the Wheel turns. Green returns, and gold as well.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
~ Robert Frost, New Hampshire, 1924
Autumn trees: author photo
Meeks Bay, Lake Tahoe: the_tahoe_guy, Flickr/Creative Commons
Fort Churchill, Nevada: author photo
Seattle skyline; author photo
Sand feet: author photo
Pin Oak in Autumn: public domain
One thought on “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
Beautifully written, Deb. And one of my very favorite poems.